A scientific study was able to detect the presence of life several kilometers inside the earth, in an environment devoid of light and oxygen, with only carbon monoxide as a source of energy.
An international team led by microbiologist Brett Baker, assistant professor at the University of Texas, USA, and Thijs Ettema, a professor at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, along with researchers at UNC Chapel Hill, USA and University of Bremen, Germany, discovered how microorganisms discovered for the first time in a gold mine in South Africa at a depth of three kilometers, are able to live without oxygen and light.
Baker and Ettema found these microorganisms in different environments, both terrestrial and aquatic: in the depths of a temperate estuary in North Carolina and in the hot springs of Yellowstone National Park, both in the United States. This new class of microorganisms specializes in survival in the depths, so they were called “Hadesarchaea ”, referring to the underwolrd god from ancient Greece, Hades, said Brett Baker, lead author of the study published recently in the journal Nature Microbiology.
As the name suggests, Hadesarchaea belong to a relatively unknown group of organisms, Archaea. Archaea are single-celled microscopic bacteria, but in terms of evolution, they differ from eatch other more than a human is different from a tree.
Archaea microorganisms were discovered only about 40 years ago by American biologist Carl Woese. To this day these life forms were not studied too much, compared to bacteria and more complex life forms such as animals and plants.
“The discovery of Hadesarchaea microorganisms will help us better understand the biology and lifestyle of the Archaea that thrives in the deep biosphere,” said Thijs Ettema.
The different chemical ways the Hadesarchaea cells use to metabolize carbon monoxide are unique compared to those previously observed. “The new discovery expands our knowledge about how these microorganisms can adapt to the extreme conditions of the deep biosphere” reports Jimmy Sierra, a researcher at Uppsala University and co-author of the study.